China says it supports the efforts of international peace envoy Kofi Annan, who is in Beijing to try to persuade Chinese leaders to support his plan on resolving tensions in Syria.
In a sign of how important China sees the ongoing crisis in Syria, one of the country's top leaders, Premier Wen Jiabao, met with Kofi Annan Tuesday in Beijing.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters his government welcomes international efforts to resolve the Syria issue peacefully.
He says China wants to work with the international community to play a constructive and active role for what he called the proper peaceful resolution of the Syria situation. He adds that China supports special envoy Annan's “good offices” to resolve the situation, but he stopped short of saying whether Beijing fully supports his Syrian peace plan.
China and Russia have vetoed United Nations resolutions that condemned the Syrian government's crackdown and called for the Syrian president to step down. U.S. officials at a nuclear summit in Seoul said they still want to see Bashar al-Assad leave office, but welcomed the Annan plan as a basis for further talks with China and Russia.
Annan came to Beijing from Moscow, where he received the Russian government's full support for his latest plan, which calls for an immediate U.N.-supervised cease-fire and dialogue between Assad and his critics aimed at political reform.
Joseph Cheng, a political science professor at Hong Kong's City University, says Annan's visit provides an important opportunity for China.
“I think China welcomes this trip because it allows China to have an honorable retreat, so to speak, from its very strong position in refusing to support the resolution on the part of the U.N. Security Council to impose sanctions on Syria," he stated. "So, the efforts of Kofi Annan supports the position of China and Russia, that the U.N. Security Council should avoid taking military action, at least at this stage.”
China says it has no plans to attend the second Friends of Syria meeting, which is set for April 1 in Istanbul. Cheng says Beijing so far has its own reasons for not wanting to be at that meeting.
“China understands that its position will be an isolated one in the forum, and it will be difficult for China to persuade the major participants to change their stance. And therefore, China believes that it is not wise, it is more appropriate for China NOT to attend the forum,” he said.
At the same time, Cheng says he thinks it is possible that the Kofi Annan mission could achieve some sort of breakthrough that could make it possible for China to attend the international meeting after all. Annan is set to leave China on Wednesday.